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    Sunday, September 25, 2022

    Tech startup to pay $400,000 for falsifying grant applications

    A startup business once incubated at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point that billed itself as "Cisco underwater" has settled allegations that it repeatedly made false claims on federal grant applications and will pay $400,000 to the government in restitution, officials announced Thursday.

    The U.S. Attorney's Office in Connecticut said Aquatic Sensor Network Technology LLC, its principals and some of its employees were accused of filing false information with the National Science Foundation and the federal Small Business Innovation Research Program that backs innovative startups doing cutting-edge science and engineering projects.

    The accused were Jun-Hong Cui, Yong Ma, Shengli Zhou, Zhijie Shi and Juanhuan Liao.

    This is the same company whose questionable conduct resulted in UConn having $4.6 million in research grants suspended as the federal government looked into allegations that two of its professors directly benefited by a $250,000 purchase that the university authorized.

    "Fraudulent schemes involving companies and individuals who repeatedly make false statements to the government in order to obtain scarce federal SBIR program research dollars will not be tolerated," Allison C. Lerner, inspector general of the National Science Foundation, said in a statement.

    Aquasent, as the company now based in Storrs also is called, was formed to develop underwater wireless communications technology.

    An official in a 2012 interview at the Technology Incubation Program at Avery Point said the idea was to use marine-based networking systems to improve oil and natural gas discovery as well as tsunami warning systems.

    Since its formation in 2007, the company has received more than $920,000 in federal SBIR grants.

    But the government contended that it discovered grant filings contained false information about the primary employment of the principal investigator, the location and size of the company's facilities and the identities of outside investors, among other issues.

    Civil restitution was sought under the federal False Claims Act after a long investigation, the government said.

    Aquasent cooperated with the probe, according to federal prosecutors.

    "In order to ensure that federal research funds are managed wisely and efficiently, all recipients of federal grants must strictly adhere to the regulations," said U.S. Attorney Deirdre M. Daly in a statement.

    l.howard@theday.com

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